Citizens of Heaven

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Philippians 3:17-21

INTRODUCTION: We are studying the book of Philippians and what it means to be partners together in the gospel. The key word in the passage before us is the word “citizenship” found in verse 20. Citizenship comes from the Greek word “politeuma”, the word from which we get our word “politics.” But no matter what your political allegiances may be here on earth, Paul writes that if you are a Christian, you’re your true citizenship is in heaven. (Read Philippians 3:17-21)

June 2, 1953 was an important date for me. It was actually an essential date for me. I was not even born yet, but my whole life depended on it. June 2, 1953 is the date my mother and father met. My Dad was in the Air Force stationed in England, and my mother was a British citizen. They met at the Coronation of Queen Elizabeth. They married three years later and then moved to the United States. Now my mother is still an English citizen, but she also became an American citizen. She has dual citizenship. One of the nice things about America is you don’t have to be born here to be a citizen. And it is the same way with heaven. You don’t have to be born there to be a citizen. Which is a good thing! You don’t have to be born there to belong.

Now we weren’t always citizens of heaven. We read in Ephesians 2: “You were separate from Christ, excluded from citizenship in Israel and foreigners to the covenants of the promise. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near through the blood of Christ…. Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and aliens, but fellow citizens with God’s people and members of God’s household.” (Ephesians 2:19)

Through the blood of Jesus we have been brought near and become citizens of heaven. We have a new home, and as a result, we no longer feel comfortable here on earth We join the ranks of the pioneers of faith described in Hebrews 11: “All these people were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance. And they admitted that they were aliens and strangers on earth. 14 People who say such things show that they are looking for a country of their own. 15 If they had been thinking of the country they had left, they would have had opportunity to return. 16 Instead, they were longing for a better country — a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them.” (Hebrews 11:13-16)

The early American spirituals emphasized this, with songs like: “I’m just a poor, wayfarin’ stranger.” “This world is not my home; I’m just a passin’ thru.” We learned earlier in our series that Philippi was a Roman colony located hundreds of miles from Rome. The Philippians would have no problem understanding the concept of being citizens of a city far from where they were located. Being Roman citizens meant they had great privileges, as well as great responsibilities.

So if we are citizens of heaven, then what does that mean for us? This morning we are going to look at four characteristics of citizens of heaven.

I. Your name is written in heaven’s book (4:3)

And the first characteristic is this. Your name is written in heaven’s book. Now that’s something to get excited about. Not everyone’s name is written in heaven. I am a U.S. citizen. My name is written in the book. Check it out! If you don’t believe me, I’ll show you my social security card.

I used to work at a film studio in California. Romano was one of my co-workers there. Romano was from Mexico, but he was studying hard for his citizenship test. He learned English and studied U.S. history. The day he took this exam and passed, we all rejoiced and celebrated! He was now a U.S. citizen. He was so proud of it, and he had worked so hard for it.

Now the amazing thing is this: we don’t have to work for our citizenship in heaven. It is a free gift from God! Well, it’s free to us. Somebody else paid a very costly price for it. And the fact that our names are written in heaven is also cause for rejoicing. We read in Luke 10 how the disciples returned from their mission trip with joy and said: “Lord, even the demons submit to us in your name!” Jesus replied, “Do not rejoice that the spirits submit to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.” (Luke 10:17-20)

That word “written” is in a special tense in the Greek which can be translated: “It is once for all written and stands written forever,” or as I like to put it, “There are no erasers in heaven!” In Revelation 3:5 Jesus makes the following promise to the church at Sardis: “He who overcomes … I will never blot out his name from the book of life, but will acknowledge his name before my Father and his angels.” (Revelation 3:54)

As a citizen of heaven, you stand secure. God will never erase your name in a fit of anger over something you’ve done. As a believer in Christ, all of God’s anger against your sin has already been poured out on Jesus at the cross.

And where specifically is your name written in heaven? Ah, this is where we get to Philippians, and I want to jump ahead to Philippians 4:3 for a moment where Paul talks about “the rest of my fellow workers, whose names are in the book of life.” (Philippians 4:3) Even Old Testament believers were familiar with this book. In Exodus 32 Moses prayed to God for Israel, “But now, please forgive their sin — but if not, then blot me out of the book you have written.” (Exodus 32:32) We find it mentioned again in Daniel 12: “At that time your people — everyone whose name is found written in the book — will be delivered.” (Daniel 12:1)

The New Testament teaches us more about this book. Revelation 21:27 tells us the following about heaven: “Nothing impure will ever enter it, nor will anyone who does what is shameful or deceitful, but only those whose names are written in the Lamb’s book of life.” (Revelation 21:7) Here we learn that it is the Lamb’s book of life. It belongs to Jesus Christ. Jesus is the way. There is no other way into the book, and there is no other way into heaven. If your name is not in the book, then you’re not a citizen, and if you’re not a citizen, you don’t get into heaven.

Revelation 20 talks about the great white throne of judgment. “Then I saw a great white throne and him who was seated on it. Earth and sky fled from his presence, and there was no place for them. 12 And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Another book was opened, which is the book of life. The dead were judged according to what they had done as recorded in the books. 13 The sea gave up the dead that were in it, and death and Hades gave up the dead that were in them, and each person was judged according to what he had done. 14 Then death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. The lake of fire is the second death. 15 If anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire.” (Revelation 20:11-15)

When I used to work with Awana Clubs, I was helping a young boy named Jeff learn verse 15: “If anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire.” (Revelation 20:15) The first question he asked me? “How do I get my name into that book?”

If you are a citizen of heaven then your name is written in heaven’s book. You belong to Jesus Christ, the Lamb of God, and he will never blot you out of his book. And that is cause for great rejoicing.

II. Your behavior is governed by heaven’s laws (17)

So that’s the first characteristic of a citizen of heaven. Your name is written in heaven’s book. A second characteristic is this: your behavior is governed by heaven’s laws. Look at verse 17: “Join with others in following my example, brothers, and take note of those who live according to the pattern we gave you.” (Philippians 3:17)

You’ve heard the old saying, “When in Rome, do as the Romans do.” Well, let me give you a different one. “When on earth, do NOT do as the earthlings do!” Heaven runs by a different set of rules than planet earth. Here are a few of them: “Love God. Love your neighbor as yourself. Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. The first shall be last, and the last shall be first. The greatest among you must be the servant of all. Blessed are the poor in spirit, blessed are those who mourn, blessed are those who are meek,” and so on.

Here in verse 17 Paul relates the importance of our behavior to our citizenship. Paul says, “Follow me! Do as I do! Live like I live!” How could he say such a thing? Well in 1 Corinthians 11:1 Paul says, “Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ.” In other words Paul is saying, “Follow my example only insofar as I am following Jesus Christ.”

Paul says, “Take note of those who also live this way, who live according to the pattern we gave you.” The word “pattern” here is a word which means “an impression or mark made by a blow.” It was used to refer to the “impress or figure made by a seal or a die.” It is used in John 20:25 of the nail prints in Jesus’ hands. Do you see the challenge? As citizens of heaven, our behavior is to leave a mark on other people’s lives. Actually we leave our mark all the time. We are always setting an example or forming impressions on other people. The only question is whether we are leaving a mark for bad or for good.

Paul knew that his life was going to leave a mark one way or another. That’s why he strove to set the right example, and he encouraged others to do the same. We learn, for better or for worse, from those around us. We affect others, for better or for worse, by our own behavior.

How is your behavior lately? Are you abiding by heaven’s laws? Would you encourage others to follow the example of your life as Paul encouraged others to follow his example? That’s the second characteristic of a citizen of heaven. Your behavior is governed by heaven’s laws.

III. Your mind is focused on heaven’s values (18-19)

A third characteristic is this: your mind is focused on heaven’s values. Look at verses 18-19: “For, as I have often told you before and now say again even with tears, many live as enemies of the cross of Christ. 19 Their destiny is destruction, their god is their stomach, and their glory is in their shame. Their mind is on earthly things.” (Philippians 3:18-19) Paul weeps as he writes verses 18 and 19. His tears stain the page as he writes. Why? Because there are many who profess Christ and yet live as enemies of the cross of Christ.

The cross is central to Christianity. It is absolutely essential. Without the cross you have no Christianity, no discipleship, no salvation, indeed no Savior. Paul wrote in Galatians 6: “May I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world.” (Galatians 6:14) Warren Wiersbe writes that “the cross of Jesus Christ is the theme of the Bible, the heart of the gospel, and the chief source of praise in heaven.”

Why would someone be opposed to the cross? Because it cuts across the grain of all that we value here on earth. The cross lays to waste all of our achievements, merits and pride. The cross reveals to us the depths of our depravity. The cross proclaims: This is how far God had to go in order to save you. The cross stands for sacrifice, suffering and rejection. Jesus said in Mark 8:31 “The Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected.” (Mark 8:31) The servant is not above the master, and so we too as Christians must bear the cross. We, too, must know suffering and rejection.

In verse 19 Paul gives us his three-part evaluation of these enemies of the cross. First of all, “their destiny is destruction.” The Greek word here means “lostness or waste.” When you live your life in opposition to the cross of Christ, your life is lost. It is wasted, like water poured out in the sand. When I was in high school the guys used to have a phrase when they were going out drinking on the weekend. They would say, “Let’s get wasted.” I always thought how sad and how true. It was a total waste. But it doesn’t have to be drinking. Any day not lived to God’s glory under submission to the cross of Christ is a wasted day. What a shame! Each day of life is a precious gift from God. We get them one at a time with no guarantee for tomorrow. How foolish to waste even one of them. But Paul is not just talking about wasting days here, not even wasting your life. He is talking about eternal loss, eternal waste, eternal destruction.

The second part of Paul’s evaluation is this: “their god is their stomach.” What a lousy god! Anybody want to worship their stomach today? But Paul is not just talking about food here. He is talking about all the harmful desires of our sinful nature. These enemies of the cross follow their own desires rather than serve God.

And finally, Paul says, “Their glory is in their shame.” In other words, they boast about their sin. They laugh about the things they should be ashamed of. There is no fear of God in their lives. Paul sums it all up at the end of verse 19: “Their mind is on earthly things.”

Where is your mind focused? On heaven’s values or on earthly things? Our citizenship is in heaven! Colossians 3:2 says, “Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things.”

Do you carry the cross of Christ daily? Or, as Matthew Henry put it, are you like the Roman soldiers who came near the cross, but only to mock, throw dice and play games? Life is too short to play games. The citizen of heaven has his mind focused on heaven’s values, his eyes fixed upon the cross of Jesus Christ.

IV. Your eyes are watching for heaven’s Savior (20-21)

We have one more characteristic of the citizen of heaven to look at. If you are a citizen of heaven, your name is written in heaven’s book, your behavior is governed by heaven’s laws, your mind is focused on heaven’s values. And finally, your eyes are watching for heaven’s Savior. Look at verses 20-21: “But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, 21 who, by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body.” (Philippians 3:20-21)

True citizens of heaven are watching for Christ’s return. Scripture exhorts us to watch, pray, be ready, eagerly expect, wait for and look for the return of our Savior.

The Scripture also tells us that not all will be ready. According to Matthew 24:30:“At that time the sign of the Son of Man will appear in the sky, and all the nations of the earth will mourn. They will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of the sky, with power and great glory.”

However, there will be no mourning for the believer on that day. Rather, that day will be a day of rejoicing! What’s the difference? Our citizenship is in heaven! When Jesus comes, we’re going home! As Jesus said in John 14:3: “And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am.” No wonder Titus 2:13 speaks of waiting “for the blessed hope — the glorious appearing of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ.” What a glorious day that will be!

Verse 21 tells us that our bodies will be changed. “[He] will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body.” Our bodies will be glorified like Jesus’ body. 1 John 3:3 says that: “Everyone who has this hope in him purifies himself.” And what is that hope? The hope that when Jesus appears “we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is.” All the aches and pains we experience in our present bodies will be removed forever when Jesus returns. Now wonder we should be eagerly watching for him!

How will Jesus change our bodies? According to verse 21, “by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control.” In other words, God is all sovereign. He is all-powerful. He’s already changed my heart, my soul, my desires. I don’t imagine it will be very difficult for him to change my body as well. This is the Savior for whom we wait. He is our hope. This is why we watch and pray.

CONCLUSION: God’s people have always been aliens and strangers on the earth. It was true of Israel in the Old Testament; it is true of the church today. But you know, I’d rather be an alien and a stranger here on earth than an eternal alien and stranger to the joys of heaven.

Heaven is my home and my place of citizenship. My name is written there. I want to live according to heaven’s laws. God has changed my mind so that I now share heaven’s values. And I can’t wait for Jesus to return that I might see him face to face. I am a citizen of heaven, and by God’s grace I shall be a good one. How about you?

© Ray Fowler

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